I spent much of today pushing and pulling at the random video sniplets being generated by our two video-capable digital cameras. I’ve blogged before about shortfalls in Apple’s iTools regarding the use-practice of toting these things (essentially, it’s impossible to just dump the video onto an archival DVD mastered via iDVD).

Poking about in semi-familiar software is a fine and relaxing pursuit in some cases, and so it proved today. I’m interested in writing about my workflow and so forth so the next time I take a few years off from video work I can dig this up and get moving, possibly faster than I did this time.

To begin with, it’s necessary to select the movies you want to convert to an iDVD format. I did that by opening the date-named folders I keep all my camera-generated content in, a folder for each day and camera. I used the old-style window view that includes disclosure triangles, set to sort by file type. Therefore, recent folders grouped at the bottom of the view. Within each disclosure-triangle opened folder the movies also grouped.

Command clicking my way through the list to select all of the movie files, I dragged them into an open new iMovie project on my second monitor. I then went and did something else for several hours. iMovie converts motion media into fullscreeen DV files – a half-meg, thirty-second snippet with sound could inflate to about fifty megs, and on my aged gear, it’s not a snappy process.

Once the files have appeared in the clip tray within iMovie, it was necessary to manually reorder them to reflect the chronological order in which they were shot. If this was a commercial project, I would have logged and probably renamed each clip, as well. As it is, I’m still undecided if I’m going to invest the time to try to slap a narrative onto the clips or not. I think I am planning on adding a soundtrack, simply because the videos from the Veo are silent.

There are two common problems that result from using hand-held still cameras as video cameras. One, it’s easy to shoot in very low light circumstances, and there’s really not much to be done on the spot to address the issue. When you shoot, you gotta make do. Two, because we normally shoot still pictures on the cameras without being concerned about vertical or horizontal composition, I find we do the same thing when shooting video.

This results in sideways video, something which should be so trivial to address that I’m still amazed at the way I ended up resolving it. To an extent, I feel that a low-light correction tool should also be available in iMovie (as well as a rotation tool). On the other hand, iPhoto has no good low-light correction tool either, so who knows.

To address both issues, I ended up using Final Cut Express, which I picked up a ways back cheaply as a promotional upgrade from Premiere. The solutions to each are far from intuitive, but at least one’s easy to figure out.

I identified the problem clips in iMovie by name, and then in FCE, selected the menu item “Open.” Navigating to the iMovie project folder containing the media files, I selected each one of the DV clips, one at a time, to open.

With the file open, I then dragged the “Motion” and “Filter” tabs away from the preview window to create a side-by-side layout for the clip. In the case of a sideways clip, using “Motion” I scaled the clip by 75% and rotated it by 90 degrees. I then set the background to “black” in the Background menu item. I then exported the clip to a new QT movie using the same settings at the original DVD clip iMovie had created (same size as the clip being worked on, 29.97 fps, etcetera).

When opened in QuickTime Player the resulting movies played well, and have the additional benefit of not requiring additional processing time from iMovie when reimported.

To correct a low-light asset, I opened the file in FCE as described above. Then I added several filters to the Video Filters tab (sadly, I didn’t take notes and it’s been over an hour since I did this procedure, so details are sketchy). Among the filters enabled were Brightness and Contrast, Color Correction, Unsharp Mask and Desaturate Highs. The conceptual steps are:

  • lighten the overall image
  • center the color contrast so that whites appear white
  • darken the shadows without losing the detail that appears when the brightness is turned up.

These manipulations are likely to cause obvious artifacts in the image. I found Unsharp Mask to be helpful in addressing these problems, as well as adding definition and depth to the transition areas.